When I signed my contract, I was ecstatic. When I packed up and moved to school, I was nervous and hesitant. When the training got tough and I was exhausted, I was unsure. But now that my first season is over, I could not be more thankful and sure of my choice to attend San Diego State University and compete on the women's rowing team. The story to getting here is long, but I knew it was important that I tell it.

Moving to school is a challenge for anyone, and in different ways. Moving to college was tough for me because on top of the stress of becoming a college student, I was becoming a college athlete. I had spent the summer training on my own, working every day to increase my endurance, fitness and stamina in order to impress my coaches during our preliminary assessments. I was entering an environment where there was a new, greater level of competition than what I was used to, all while doing so without my high school teammates. I had to find some kind of comfort in the new people I was meeting to get through the start of our season and the 6000-meter rowing machine test that would determine how we stood on the team as the season got started. That test was crucial, and it had been the focus of my summer. Training, training, and more training to meet the numbers and try to do better than that. I needed to meet the time standard for this test.

And I didn't. On the day of the test, I came up short. I rowed as hard as I could, and I could tell you all of the reasons I think I didn't make the time standard that day, but if this semester has taught me anything, it's the stop making excuses. I didn't make it, I had failed, and I had to keep working.

After that test day early on in the semester, I had to keep training. While those who met the standard got to row on beautiful Mission Bay, I spent every morning back on the rowing machine. Week after week, I'd attempt the 6000-meter test again. And for an entire month, I was stuck on campus training without water to row on.

During that month I was tested to a greater degree than I expected to be during my first semester. Being off the water made me question my decision to be here, and that is something I don't like to admit, but it's the truth. I wondered about what I was doing, why I couldn't measure up to the time standard. I was tired and during a time where a lot of students were experiencing the tough adjustment of being away from home, I was experiencing that and my fear of failure week after week, when I would retest. That fear shaped me in huge ways.

On the day that I passed the test, I was overcome with emotion. I had spent weeks in fear of failure, but at the same time, I realized I was afraid of my own strength. The challenge of the assessment that I faced during my first semester taught me that fearing the worst isn't going to get you anywhere, and it's better to remember that you're strong, capable, and strength will overcome that fear of defeat. I was finally able to row with my teammates and it was the greatest gift ever to get back on the water.

But that work didn't stop there. The rowing machine was still a subject of worry for me, and when it was incorporated into our weekly training, it caused me plenty of stress. The weeks got longer, as we entered 20-hour training weeks. While balancing sleep, studies, and any bit of a social life, we trained for 20 hours a week. Double-days are normal days for us, as are 5:30 am alarm clocks. The exhaustion we experienced became so great that it didn't really exist anymore- we were all so used to it that it was common place in our lives. The work got harder and the days seemed to get longer. None of what I was experiencing was easy. There were tough workouts, tough talks from my coach, and tough lessons to learn each day.

From September to November we were locked in the grind of train, sleep, eat (study?), repeat. And time flew by. As it did, I began to get into my rhythm and started learning a lot. I also realized I had a lot of people to thank. My trainer from home, Kristin, stuck by me through the toughest realizations, toughest moments, and worst points of the semester. She motivated me, helped me understand my potential, and inspired my goals. My mom was always there to listen and understand, even from far away. She got it, and she let me be frustrated. My family and friends who understood when I was busy or exhausted helped me keep training.

The girls I've met here have impacted me immensely. Older girls who I didn't think knew my name gave me pointers and showed that they cared. Our team captains instilled a work ethic in our team that inspires me personally and expected excellence each day. My primary coach taught me some of the greatest lessons about life from each day of hard work as a rower, and she is someone I look up to daily now.

Being a college athlete is much different than what I anticipated. A lot of the things I've experienced in this first semester are things I predicted. But a lot is different, unexpected, new, and challenging. My life revolves around my sport. My winter break ends early to train, our spring break doesn't exist, and summer is also dedicated to the next season or the next rowing machine test. A lot of people would view the journey of this first season as something awful and unpleasant. But that's where we differ as athletes. Some moments can be painful, many even. Some days can be awful. But when we see our hard work pay off in the rowing machine or the water, see our coach recognize our strides toward improvement, and see our fitness increase as we close off a great semester, we don't see the awful or the unpleasant- we see the journey to excellence. We see the grind and how empowering it is to be an athlete. And we see the journey itself as the reward.

This semester I've learned so much. Failure does not define your character, and should not define your work ethic- it must push you to keep going. Hard work is the greatest virtue of all. And as many athletes say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Always be the tough one in a sea of people. Never make excuses. And if all else fails, while working to make the people you love proud, make yourself proud too.

I'm thankful for the experience, the people and the team that has welcomed me with open arms. I'm excited to train hard over winter break to come back stronger. I can't wait for the spring season. My first semester as a college rower has been a roller coaster, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. Nothing worth having comes easy.